Grassroots organizations are stepping up to protect LGBTQ+ individualsas Catholic dioceses in the U.S. ccontinue to implement new and restrictive gender identity policies, according to The National Catholic Reporter.
34 dioceses across the United States have implemented specific directives on gender identity. Most of these policies state that schools must treat students and staff members according to their “biological sex.” While those with gender dysphoria are not banned from enrolling in Catholic schools, they are unable to utilize their preferred names, pronouns, and bathrooms within the school setting. Some schools state that noncompliance may “impact enrollment and employment status.”
When Thomas Luke, a gay 25-year old medical student from Louisiana, heard that his alma mater, St. Thomas More Catholic High School in Lafayette planned to implement a gender identity policy, he knew that he needed to step up and protect LGBTQ+ youth. He believes that the policy is “unsafe” because it does not take student mental health into effect. According to The Trevor Project, the rates of suicidal thoughts among LGBTQ+ youth have risen over the past three years. Specifically, transgender youth are at an even greater risk of suicide.
With this in mind, Luke helped to create “We Demand More”—a grassroots campaign aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ students impacted by new gender policies. A recent petition, which received 2,300 signatures, states that the group intends to “create an open dialogue with the diocese to amend the policy in respect for the dignity of all LGBTQ+ students.” Specifically, the group hopes to ensure that schools have gender-neutral bathrooms, and students can choose to be known by their last names if they identify “outside of the heteronormative.” While the group has tried to express their concerns to the diocese, they have not received a response.
In Omaha, Nebraska, a group of Catholic parents, students, parishioners, and alumni have come together to protest the implementation of a gender policy which will go into effect in the upcoming 2023-2024 school year. The policy states that “biological sex” will be the “determining factor for questions of students’ dress, personal pronouns, bathroom use, and participation in activities.” The diocese recruited 150 individuals, including those with “first-hand experience with gender dysphoria,” to help create the policy. The new grassroots initiative, Catholic Families for Love, has sent several letters to the archdiocese with critiques of the new gender policy. However, the archdiocese has not met with the group. Vickie Kauffold, the archdiocesan schools superintendent said the reason for not meeting with the group is “the proper place for that conversation is in the individual schools and parishes where the policy will be implemented.”
But, Kaela Volkmer, one of the founders of the Catholic Families for Love, stated:
“Many of us have been to our local parish and school leaders and were told that they were not involved in the policy development process and did not have any information with respect to the archdiocese’s internal processes on this matter. We will continue to respectfully ask for dialogue, ask how it was developed, how it will be implemented, and how it will be evaluated in terms of its impact on our loved ones who are transgender or nonbinary.”
Not only do new policies impact students, transgender or non-binary staff may be impacted as well. New Ways Ministry has tracked how many educators have been expelled from schools due to LGBTQ+ issues. Since 2007, there have been 55 public instances of Catholic school employees being fired, forced to resign, or threatened due to their gender or sexual orientation. However, this list is “far from exhaustive because many people don’t want to make their case public,” stated executive director Francis DeBernardo.
As more dioceses begin to implement gender policies, it is important that Catholic LGBTQ+ activists band together in order to call for dialogue and transparency. Groups like Catholic Families for Love and We Demand More are inspiring examples of how many people want LGBTQ+ children to be “safe, cared for, and healthy.”
—Sarah Cassidy, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2023